We catch up with Anita Bhalla, chair of Performances Birmingham, the charity responsible for running Town Hall and Symphony Hall
Please introduce yourself
I am Anita Bhalla, chair of Performances Birmingham Ltd (Town Hall and Symphony Hall). Previously I had a 26-year media career with the BBC which included being one of the first regionally-based bi-media correspondents and setting up the Asian Network, which is now a national service. I was also BBC England’s head of Political and Community Affairs and head of the Corporation’s Public Space Broadcasting. I also presented Channel 4’s Eastern Eye and other national radio and TV programmes. I am chair of the Creative City Partnership, board member of Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP, non- executive director of Birmingham Women’s Hospital and recent past chair of MAC (Midlands Arts Centre).
What does your company do?
We run Town Hall and Symphony Hall and are also engaged in outreach and community education work, making music an important part of everyone’s lives.
Is Brum a good place to do business?
It is a great place – there is so much history to build on and so many opportunities to be had.
What are your biggest gripes with it?
People here don’t believe in themselves enough and we don’t think big enough which limits our dreams.
How do you feel your clients see the city?
There probably isn’t another city in Britain that has been more maligned in the past than Birmingham, often described as soulless, uninteresting and with no clear-cut identity. But people who use such descriptions really don’t know the city today. When people come here they see the warmth and real energy we have.
Does Birmingham offer any particular advantages as a destination for business?
We have some great people in the city. Our infrastructure is good (and getting better), we have terrific road and rail links and a young, digital and diverse population with one of the largest numbers of students in the country. Our culture offering is second to none and it plays not only to local but global audiences, driving more than a million additional visits into the city. We’re an enterprising city too with over 1,000 trades and where modern architecture sits comfortable alongside our Victorian heritage. Culture and creativity is not just about providing a buzz or a bit of icing on the cake but hard economic outputs and jobs. The West Midlands is at the centre of a creative jobs boom with nearly 20,000 new roles in just three years, according to official figures.
What should our priorities be as a city?
Tackle social inclusion, divisions and the skills gap, create more jobs in sectors which we don’t give enough priority to, build on our cultural heritage, raise our profile, think differently – and come up with more projects like The Big Hoot to bring people together.
If you had £1bn to spend on improving Brum what would you do with it?
Introduce a Birmingham Oyster Card and make public transport easier and more accessible. Provide more affordable housing, cleaner streets, more meaningful apprenticeships, more art work around the city, open up areas like Digbeth by improving street lighting and insisting that disused buildings are repurposed and brought back to life.